Rinpa: Silver Waves: Lacquer works by Tohru Matsuzaki

Matsuzaki’s studio is set among the quiet mountains of Motegi town in Tochigi Prefecture, which is situated next to the town of Mashiko where the potter, Shoji Hamada, one of the leaders of the mingei (folk-art) movement of the 1920s and 1930s, based his activities.  It was in Mashiko that Matsuzaki studied under Tatsuzō Shimaoka (recognized as ‘living national treasure’ in 1996, died in 2007), learning the ideal sizes for vessels and realizing the profundity of ceramics. Following this he did not study under a lacquer artist, but his love of wood led him to spend his time surrounded by wood shavings as he carves out his works before applying numerous coats of lacquer.  In the beginning he simply used thick blocks of zelkova wood, carving out picture frames that he then finished using a thick coat of vermillion lacquer.  These caught the eye of the textile artist, Keisuke Serizawa, who used them for his panel or glass paintings, which took the art world by storm forty years ago.

Although his work bears some similarities to Korean Joseon-dynasty or Negoro work, Matsuzaki’s lacquerware is unique to him.  His sculptural works capture the viewer’s heart.  Carved from single pieces of four- to five-hundred-year-old zelkova, horse chestnut or chestnut timber that have been dried for more than twenty years, they do not warp.   The beauty of the numerous coats of black or vermillion lacquer awake ancient memories of the Jōmon period that lie dormant within us.  As Matsuzaki says, ‘Mankind has known the value of wood and lacquer for over ten thousand years and I felt that I wanted to use these to make something in a present continuous form, something that could be used, but which would also be appreciated universally for its beauty.’

Alternating between art and mingei, Matsuzaki has established his own unique genre, recently adding to this with a new series of works incorporating silver in their decoration. 

The theme for this exhibition is ‘aiming for the Rinpa’ (Rinpa school: a major Japanese art movement established in the 17th century), and in addition to his black and vermillion works it will also include some with silver designs that dance freely across wiped lacquer bases to add the element of painting to his oeuvre.  We delighted to be able to hold simultaneous exhibitions of his work in both Tokyo and New York and would like to take this opportunity to offer our sincere thanks to Tohru Matsuzaki for his unstinting support, dating back to even before our gallery opened.  

Shoko Aono